Many autistic children have particular preferences for specific sensory stimuli, like focused interest on the flicker of fluorescent lights, pronounced discomfort from a scratchy T-shirt tag or deep cravings for bear hugs. And yet, while every child with autism has a unique sensory pattern, there is little research — either at the individual or population levels — documenting how those patterns shift throughout the stages of early childhood.

In 2013, a team of researchers from the USC Mrs. T.H. Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy began collaboration with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to study a cohort of more than 1,500 children, measuring their sensory patterns as the children grew from infancy to school age. Now, the researchers have generated insights into the associations between those sensory changes and various child and family characteristics, including the eventual emergence of autistic symptoms once the children were six or seven years old.

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